Upskilling Front-Line Managers for a Post-pandemic, Hybrid Work World

By Julie Zinn posted 05-06-2022 09:48 AM


Front-line managers have never had an easy road. They are the ones who must translate strategy into tactical objectives so their teams can get the organization’s work done. They are the ones who manage employees day in and day out, including the motivated top performers, the disenchanted and problem employees, and those who need extra support and accommodation to manage extenuating family circumstances or mental health issues.

That road has gotten even rockier since COVID-19, and now that we seem to be through the worst of it (fingers crossed), we are also entering new workplace structures where organizations may have all their employees working remotely, some of their employees working remotely, or some combination across their teams. It is up to front-line managers to make it all work – to enforce company policies, fully engage and manage their employees, produce on-time, on-budget deliverables, and help create new cultural rituals that move the organization forward amid the backdrop of the variability of each employee’s life.

Let’s take a look at a day in the life of a front-line manager. We will get a glimpse of Helena’s day to see how the challenges of today’s workplace impact her as a front-line manager.

8 a.m., voicemail from Sylvia: “I’m unable to work today because my son, Barry, is experiencing COVID-19 long-hauler symptoms again, and I need to take him to the doctor this morning. In fact, I think I need to look at a different work arrangement and cut my hours to accommodate this ongoing family-care situation. I also need to continue working from home for the foreseeable future. I’m really starting to lose it. Anyway, I won’t be able to finish that presentation for you today.”

It sounds like Helena will have to demonstrate empathy and compassion, as well as some creative problem solving that may include job sharing options or, at a minimum, job flexibility. Helena also needs to develop some strong collaboration and communications strategies for her hybrid team that works very closely together with most of the team members in-office 3x/week. Finally, Helena needs to be armed with some knowledge and awareness of the needs of caregivers and their organization’s wellness benefits.

10 a.m., team meeting: Lu loses their temper when Isaiah makes an insensitive comment about gender-neutral pronouns.

Helena now needs to be versed in company policies around harassment and discrimination, be able to provide immediate and constructive feedback to Isaiah, as well as to Lu, address expectations with the team for an inclusive culture and healthy team dynamics, show compassion to Lu and possibly provide mental health resources, and finally, work to resolve conflict among team members. And it’s not even lunchtime yet!

3 p.m., one-on-one meeting: Sholanda expresses her frustration with her trajectory at the company. She’s a little bored and wants to grow professionally, upskill in a variety of areas, and have a clear career path.

Our front-line manager can’t catch a break! These are not unrealistic expectations, but given all that’s going on right now, Helena hasn’t had time to think about career paths. Helena will need to take a deep breath, and then show empathy and figure out how to engage this employee. That means bringing the company’s mission, vision, and values to life so Sholanda can feel a real connection to the company. She will need to take time to build a stronger relationship with Sholanda to learn more about her interests, passions, and areas of strengths and growth opportunities. She may need to coach and/or mentor Sholanda and provide new assignments where additional feedback may be required. Helena starts thinking more about this and realizes that other team members may have the same concerns. She really cannot afford to have any team members leave the company right now.

The bottom line is this: The core skills for being a front-line manager have expanded and evolved. Our organizations simply will not be successful if front-line managers don’t level up their management skills. Make no assumptions. Even your best and most savvy managers may not have the necessary capabilities, strategies, and language to handle all that’s coming at them.

Here’s a checklist to consider. Are your front-line managers able to do the following?

  • Recognize, support, and leverage diversity in a way that fosters a psychologically safe, respectful, and inclusive working environment.

  • Set clear expectations and hold employees accountable regardless of location.

  • Demonstrate empathy and compassion in a meaningful way that resonates with employees.

  • Show vulnerability to deepen connections with employees.

  • Develop creative solutions that meet diverse employees’ needs.

  • Establish and accommodate flexible working arrangements (where and when work gets done).

  • Foster collaboration and effective communication in hybrid working environments.

  • Build trust that can withstand today’s dynamic workplaces.

  • Provide constructive feedback and correct unacceptable behaviors.

  • Resolve conflicts in a way that strengthens relationships.

  • Reinforce and connect the organization’s mission, vision, and values in everyday work practices and routines to ignite a sense of purpose for employees.

  • Provide professional growth and career advancement opportunities and coach employees toward them.

  • Provide employees with strong connection points to the organization.

  • Accommodate unexpected employee family circumstances.

  • Identify and respond to mental health issues and share support options.

It is a substantial list. However, as you can see from the real-life scenarios laid out above, managers must be fully equipped to handle a diverse array of employee issues in the moment. If ever there were a need to ensure your managers are well-trained, including in some of these expanded core management skills, the time is now. When you provide managers with the requisite skills, you give them not only the ability to do what is being asked of them but also the confidence to do it well.

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